Eat the Best Pizza in Houston

Eat the Best Pizza in Houston (13)EXPAND
Photo by Erika Kwee

If anyone thought judging the best doughnut in Houston was hard, he or she would be sorely mistaken. Attempting to uncover the best pizza in Houston was a monstrous task to tackle when considering the vast pizza landscape in conjunction with the wide, wide range of opinions held by the judging panel.

However, on one fateful Saturday, ten pizza lovers assembled to do a side-by-side taste test of 24 pizzas from inside the Loop to crown the best New York-style and best Neapolitan pizzas in Houston. There were many surprises for the judging panel after the scores were aggregated, so take these results as more of a baseline than a be-all, end-all of Houston pizza judgment.

Consider: Are you a lover of crunchy crust? A doughy-based, sauce-laden aficionado? A spare-sauced, heavy-cheese fan? Read on for guidelines to help you find your ideal pizza nirvana amid the lively Houston pizza scene.

Eat the Best Pizza in Houston (15)EXPAND
Photo by Erika Kwee

Methodology

Pizzas were selected according to personal nominations, Yelp ratings and online research. Only places that seemed like promising candidates for the title of "Best Pizza in Houston" were selected (with some neighborhood-favorite joints as a control). One glaring omission from the list of contenders is the newly opened Pi Pizza — the shop had been so slammed by the grand opening the day before that it had run out of ingredients and wasn't opening until 4 p.m. the day of our tasting.

Ultimately, 24 pizzas were judged, with 12 Neapolitan pizzas and 12 New York-style pizzas (categorized based on each shop's self-defined label). Slices of each pizza were reheated for five minutes in a 475-degree oven before tasting (reheating was a key issue that will be addressed later in the article).

Scoring

New York-style pizzas were judged based on plain cheese pizzas. An ideal New York-style pizza is characterized by a crisp yet pliable crust: sturdy on the bottom, chewy and tender in the middle, and slick and nearly doughy on top. It should be topped with a light layer of tomato sauce and an even layer of mozzarella cheese, and it should stand up to being folded with a slightly raised crust cooked to an even golden brown. It is typically cooked in a coal or gas oven. 

Neapolitan pizzas were based on each shop's margherita offering (the most popular Neapolitan style). An ideal Neapolitan pizza is characterized by a charred, puffy crust with a moist, poofy, chewy interior and a scant amount of toppings (dabs of cheese rather than an even layer) on a thin, non-stiff crust. It is typically cooked in a wood-fired oven at a scorching temperature for a very short period of time.

Each pizza was rated in a blind taste test on a scale of 1-5 for crust, sauce and cheese. Each pizza also received an overall rating on a scale of 1-10. 

Results: New-York Style

Least popular: Pepperoni's, Romano's, Brother's Pizzeria, Luigi's

Pepperoni's is a solid option for starving college students.EXPAND
Pepperoni's is a solid option for starving college students.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Pepperoni's was my personal least favorite pizza: The crust housed smears of generic tomato sauce and a topping of waxy, blistered cheese. A comment by one taster that it was "college pizza" seems the most accurate way to describe it.

A popular neighborhood joint, Romano's presents serviceable but not great pizza with a cardboard-like crust.EXPAND
A popular neighborhood joint, Romano's presents serviceable but not great pizza with a cardboard-like crust.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Romano's crust bore the strongest resemblance to cardboard, but not entirely in a bad way: It had an almost machine-like evenness with consistent air bubbling. While it lacked the textural contrast and flavor crucial to a great New York slice, the bottom retained a nice crunch, and there was an airy lightness to the crust. The almost flavorless crust was balanced by a similarly even layer of strong-tasting cheese.

Love doughy crust? Head to Brother's for an indulgently carby, greasy slice.EXPAND
Love doughy crust? Head to Brother's for an indulgently carby, greasy slice.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Brother's Pizzeria had one of the doughiest crusts with a thick layer of cheese. Though the crust had a buttery, herby flavor, most judges couldn't overcome the bready crust and greasiness of the overall slice.

Luigi's had a notably yeasty flavor to its crust, but don't let that stop you from eating it every time you visit Axelrad.EXPAND
Luigi's had a notably yeasty flavor to its crust, but don't let that stop you from eating it every time you visit Axelrad.
Photo by Erika Kwee

I was saddened to see Luigi's take last place since its proximity to Axelrad makes it one of the most convenient pizza spots for beer lovers. Comments about Luigi's overwhelmingly noted a strong "beer" or "yeasty" flavor to the puffy, bready crust. The sauce erred on the sweet side, and the cheese (a combination of mozzarella and shredded parmesan) was notably salty. All I can say is, one time I was fed a slice of the mushroom pizza while drunk, and it tasted like manna from the gods.

Middle of the road: Frank's, Pizza L'Vino, Pink's

Frank's pizza was polarizing, but a favorite among some judges for excellent cheese.EXPAND
Frank's pizza was polarizing, but a favorite among some judges for excellent cheese.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Frank's was one of the most polarizing New York-style pizzas: While it was aesthetically pleasing, with a vivid grease-shine to its cheese even hours after ordering, I deducted many points for a chemical taste to the bubbled crust and greasy cheese. Several judges gave Frank's nearly full points for an excellent ratio of cheese to sauce to crust. Overall it's okay pizza; Frank's has already found its sweet spot in Houston: It's a hot spot for drunken downtowners.

Pizza L'Vino received low ratings for its crust, sauce and cheese included.EXPAND
Pizza L'Vino received low ratings for its crust, sauce and cheese included.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Pizza L'Vino was marked down for having a cardboard-like, bready crust with an overabundance of flavorless cheese and a generic sauce. Not holding anything against L'Vino for convenient takeout or delivery, but I wouldn't go out of my way to come here.

Pink's is an institution in Houston, but its pizza didn't top our list.EXPAND
Pink's is an institution in Houston, but its pizza didn't top our list.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Pink's was marked down by one taster for a "synthetic" taste to its cheese, while others lauded its herby, balanced cheese flavor with a chewy but not too starchy crust. I doubt anything I say will change your mind about Pink's: If you grew up with it, you likely love it. If you didn't, it's a solid middle-of-the-road slice. 

Notables: Luna Pizzeria, Star Pizza

Luna straddles strict pizza categories thanks to its "San Francisco-style" sourdough crust. Still, it performed well in the Neapolitan category.EXPAND
Luna straddles strict pizza categories thanks to its "San Francisco-style" sourdough crust. Still, it performed well in the Neapolitan category.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Luna Pizzeria had one of the thinner crusts and received the second-highest crust rating. The Luna team describe their pizzas as not strictly New York, but rather as a "San Francisco-style" pizza thanks to its sourdough base. A six-minute bake at 475 degrees puts it out of the Neapolitan category, yet the thinness of the pizza lent it certain Neapolitan-related characteristics. The mild, gooey cheese had an overall addictive quality that complemented the puffy, chewy crust well.

Russo's pizza was nearly universally appealing for its aggressively buttery, herb-y flavor.EXPAND
Russo's pizza was nearly universally appealing for its aggressively buttery, herb-y flavor.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Third place: Russo's Pizzeria (5.9/10)

Home to party pizzas (behemoths composed of four different types of pizza that can feed small countries), Russo's had an aggressively buttery and herb-infused flavor to its crust that's almost reminiscent of...well, Domino's. It was one of the greasier pizzas, with salty highlights in the cheese and a satisfying crunch to the crust. The cheese had a waxier, tougher chew to it — in a good way, if possible. It's a crowd-pleasing pizza for sure.

Score a slice of the thin, addictive creative pizzas at Love Buzz for free with purchase of a drink from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily.EXPAND
Score a slice of the thin, addictive creative pizzas at Love Buzz for free with purchase of a drink from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Second place: Love Buzz (6.2/10)

The recently opened Love Buzz on Westheimer offers a free slice with any drink ordered from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily — this is a great deal to take advantage of considering its whole pizzas are among the priciest we tried ($20+). The cheese pizza stood out for tiny specks of ricotta that accented the thin, pale crust and proportional but tasty layer of cheese, which was particularly salty and buttery tasting. The sauce stood out for its garlicky kick, and the very thin crust makes for dangerously easy eating. 

Grimaldi's stands out for a distinct cracker-like crust and extremely fresh toppings.EXPAND
Grimaldi's stands out for a distinct cracker-like crust and extremely fresh toppings.
Photo by Erika Kwee

First place: Grimaldi's (6.3/10)

If you've heard rumors that Grimaldi's imports water from New York to make its crust, you're partly right — the shop only uses water that undergoes a process that strips a bunch of the harsher minerals from Houston's water to make the chain's dough, rinse produce, etc. This attention to detail shows in its bright, fresh tomato sauce, lightly blistered pockets of high-quality cheese, and a bubbled, well-done crust. I personally marked this pizza down for its lack of cravability (I prefer a doughier crust over a very thin, almost cracker-like one), but there's no denying the high quality of ingredients and execution in this pizza.



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